By Anika Jagasia
In recent years, the field of integrative medicine has gained attention for its interdisciplinary approach to healthcare that combines complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) with evidence-based medicine. Rather than exclusively focusing on treating symptoms, integrative medicine emphasizes prevention and wellness, comfort, thoughtfulness, and circumstance. Columbia’s Integrative Therapies Program is dedicated to providing supportive care throughout the entirety of cancer treatment. Addressing the whole person as they are, from diagnosis through surgery and survivorship.
Considering a patient's unique needs and desires along with their medical history creates the opportunity to alleviate disease or treatment side effects in ways best suited to you. That may start with your doctors but also include nutritionists, nurses, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and even mindful meditation. This holistic approach can aid in better management of stress, chronic health conditions, as well as alleviate pain without the use of narcotics.
“We're really trying to minimize our use of opioids, especially for breast patients,” says Chief of Breast Surgery, Roshni Rao, MD. “We're not only infiltrating things during the operation. We're giving them blocks by anesthesia beforehand; we're setting them up to get a few medications in the post-op setting, including standard ones like Tylenol, Advil, as well as nerve medications that we put them on for seven to 10 days. We also use ice a lot, even aromatherapy. And we're putting all these things together. We have a nice pathway we've developed here that we try to put patients on routinely.”
Here are a few common integrative therapies proven to decrease the side effects of cancer treatments and promote a general sense of well-being:
- Acupuncture: A gentle and effective treatment for anyone undergoing cancer treatment. This therapy can aid in preventing and alleviating treatment side effects such as pain, stress and anxiety, fatigue, and nausea and vomiting. In addition, it can reduce the late effects of treatment and improve quality of life.
- Mind-body Medicine: Meditation, breathing exercises, and body scanning alleviate the side effects of cancer treatment as well as promote a sense of general well-being. These therapies induce relaxation, release physical tension, and support patients and their families through potentially stressful medical procedures.
- Aromatherapy: An evidence-based modality that uses essential oils extracted from plants, flowers, and herbs to support health. Each essential oil has a characteristic fragrance and therapeutic benefit.
- Massage Therapy: An especially therapeutic intervention for children with cancer (along with exercise and movement therapy). Pediatric massage at Columbia uses a combination of Swedish and Eastern techniques. It can reduce pain, alter metabolism, alleviate stress and muscle cramping, induce relaxation, improve circulation and lymph flow, promote muscle tone, increase range of motion, and encourage recovery after medical procedures.
- Nutrition Counseling: Proper nutrition throughout cancer treatment has been shown to improve overall survival, reduce treatment-related toxicities, and improve quality of life.
Click here to learn more about our Integrative Therapies Program, or call 212-305-9770. It is free of charge for all patients undergoing cancer treatment and their families, from diagnosis through recovery.